National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  April 11, 2003

Court takes on same-sex marriage lawsuit


The case for same-sex civil marriage took a significant step forward March 4 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in a potentially landmark case, Goodrich et al v. Department of Public Health. A ruling is not expected until this summer, but if the court grants the seven same-sex couples’ request, the state may well become the first to extend civil-marriage protections and benefits to gays.

Legal action began in April 2001 when the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, known as GLAD, filed suit in Suffolk Superior Court after seven same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses and were denied. The Boston-based group asked the court to remove discriminatory barriers that bar lesbian and gay couples from civil marriage.

The court dismissed the suit in May 2002, but the Supreme Judicial Court agreed last year to hear the case.

GLAD’s argument rests on equality and liberty guarantees found in the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution.

“The plaintiffs stand before this court seeking nothing more and nothing less than the same respect under our laws and constitution that all others enjoy: the same liberty and right to marry the person of their choice, and the same equal right to marry on the same terms that apply to other people,” Mary Bonauto said in her opening remarks before seven justices, three women and four men -- the court’s full bench.

“They work, they raise children, and volunteer in their communities,” she said. “Everybody is aging, everyone is getting older, but some are facing the pressures of retirement and illness. Because they cannot marry, they have added burdens. They are locked out of a precious right: one of the most important decisions any person can make in life, one that transforms a person’s legal status from an individual into a family with reciprocal obligations and extensive protections for that family.”

Assistant Attorney General Judith Yogman represented the state and defended Massachusetts’ right to deny marriage licenses.

“The question before the court today is whether the Massachusetts Constitution requires the Commonwealth to permit same-sex couples to marry,” she said. At the heart of the state’s argument is a link among marriage, procreation and child rearing: “to further the state’s interest in fostering the link between procreation and marriage,” Yogman said.

“The Legislature could believe that the optimal setting for child rearing and procreation and family is one parent of each sex, mothers and fathers -- and there is literature to suggest -- each makes unique contributions to the upbringing of children,” she said.

Meanwhile, a constitutional amendment has been introduced in the Massachusetts Legislature, restricting marriage to “the union of one man, one woman. … Any other relationship shall not be recognized as a marriage or its legal equivalent.”

However, a three-pronged, pro-gay legislative effort is also underway, with domestic partnerships, civil unions and a same-sex civil marriage bill all introduced this year.

Courts in Hawaii and Alaska have approved same-sex marriage, but state constitutional amendments, subsequently passed, limit marriage to a man and a woman.

Nationally, the closest thing to marriage for gays is Vermont’s civil-unions law, which was passed in 2000 and in effect set up a parallel, marriage-like status for homosexual couples.

A case for same-sex marriage is working its way through the courts in New Jersey. A lawsuit exists in Indiana. Civil-unions bills have been introduced in Colorado, Connecticut and California.

In the case of Goodrich et al v. Department of Public Health, numerous organizations and individuals have filed friend-of-the-court briefs. Among those who filed briefs opposing same-sex civil marriage were the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Knights of Columbus, and the states of Nebraska, Utah and South Dakota. Those who filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the plaintiffs included the Massachusetts Bar Association, the National Lawyers Guild and the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys.

Freelance journalist Chuck Colbert writes from Cambridge, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, April 11, 2003

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